Article by Sarah
Edited by Ronny and Audrey
Over 5 million selfies have been shared on Instagram using the tag #ChallengeAccepted. This social media trend, in which women “challenge” each other to post pictures of themselves, was used by many to lift each other up and celebrate femininity, but recently took on another purpose: shedding light on the alarming number of femicides occurring in Turkey.
Turkey, a country founded by feminist Kemal Atatürk, is currently in the middle of a human rights crisis. Femicide is defined by the World Health Organization as the “intentional murder of women because they are women". Turkey has the highest femicide rates in the world; in 2019, 474 women were murdered, primarily by male partners (The Guardian). The murder of 27-year-old Pınar Gültekin by her ex-boyfriend in July 2020 sparked global outrage. This prompted protests of gender-based violence across Turkey and turned the #ChallengeAccepted trend into a platform for women to post pictures of themselves to call attention to the issue. A Turkish actress stated in an Instagram post, “In Turkey, every day we wake up to the news of women who are murdered either by a spouse, boyfriend, stalker, or complete stranger. A black and white photo is followed by details of horrific news. Any of us could be that woman. That's why we accept the challenge until the Turkish government takes the required steps" (BBC).
The Istanbul Convention
The Istanbul Convention is an international treaty that “defines and criminalizes various forms of violence against women, including physical, sexual, and psychological violence, stalking, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilization” (European Parliament). It also protects men and refugees from abuse, promotes awareness and support of victims, and defines gender as a social construct to include victims that do not identify as women. Turkey signed the treaty in 2011, but many people believe that it was never fully implemented within the country. This feeling intensified when the government stopped keeping reports on femicides, causing awareness of the issue to decrease (NPR). Meanwhile, femicides quadrupled from 2011 to 2018 (NPR).
As the slogan “İstanbul Sözleşmesi Yaşatır” (“The Istanbul Convention Saves Lives”) became the new battle cry for protesters of femicide in 2020, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he was considering withdrawing the country from the treaty. This remark sparked public outrage, even among the President’s family and supporters, as the fate of Turkish women became more uncertain. The deputy of Erdoğan’s reigning Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, subsequently stated that the Istanbul Convention “harms the family institution in Turkey, paving the way for more divorce” and “is ineffective in protecting women and aims to destroy the idea of gender by creating a third gender and promoting LGBT activism” (Daily Sabah). The party’s meeting to decide the fate of the treaty in Turkey has been postponed multiple times from the original date, August 5th, and while a final decision has yet to be made, the party has stated that an alternative document to protect women from femicide is being developed.
The Coronavirus pandemic posed a difficult situation for many Turkish women quarantined with their abusers, as 32 women were killed by men in July 2020 alone (Independent). While the Turkish people await the government’s decision regarding the Istanbul Convention, women’s shelters continue to need support and Turkish women continue to need a voice. Turkey’s patriarchal legal system prevents females from proper representation in the government, courtroom, and household, meaning that anything less than equality is a death sentence for women.